What if a book you’re reading to review inspires in you feelings of outrage, shock, indignation? How do you translate those strong reactions into an acceptable tone for an academic journal?
Let me elaborate just a little bit, without getting too specific.
The book is polemical...it seems to have been written solely to cut down the group the author is writing about. The author even resorts – more than once – to calling folks in this group “ugly”, whereas she characterizes her “heroes” as beautiful and graceful! As well, the scholarship is notably and obviously questionable. The author fails to provide references for many of her more dubious claims. She makes claims that are patently false. She homogenizes a very diverse group in an egregious manner. She writes things like “[Scholars of X] have always written about X in such-and-such a way…” When I am alarmed by this misrepresentation, and very curious to know just who she thinks these scholars are – did I miss something important in my field? – I turn to the endnote and find that she has included a single reference, and it is to someone who really cannot be characterized as a Scholar of X! Further, the author doesn’t refer to any sources less than ten years old, when the stakes of the issue she’s writing about have changed dramatically in the last decade – there are prominent books published in the last eight or so years whose very existence invalidates her argument, full stop, and neither they nor their authors are mentioned.
Do you see what I mean? This is scholarship at its worst, and it makes me scream. It offends me, as I'm sure my liberal use of italics in the previous paragraph makes clear. I am certain, though, that a tone of moral indignation just will not fly in the academic press, dispassionate as it requires us all to pretend to be.
Have any of you had to write a review of such a book? What kind of tone did you adopt?